Dell founder steps into ad spotlight

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High-flying Dell Computer Corp. has tapped its highly driven and very private chairman-CEO to tout his vision of the customer experience via Dell in a new TV spot breaking Sept. 11.

The 30-second spot, by BBDO Worldwide, New York, features Michael Dell in his first appearance in TV brand advertising articulating the one-to-one relationship Dell has with its customers and how the Internet enhances that relationship.


While a far cry from Gateway's "Ted/Dad'' commercial, an all-American depiction of the spotted-cow marketer's chairman-CEO, Ted Waitt, helping his father find the Internet on-ramp, the Dell creative will attempt to give a more human face to the company founder, who masterminded the ultimate tech start-up in his college dorm room at the age of 18.

The enterprise-driven spot, part of BBDO's ongoing $110 million global corporate brand effort, was shot at Dell's Round Rock, Texas, headquarters and at various global outposts of the $21.7 billion company. Mr. Dell narrates the spot as the campaign's theme song, Michael Dell's pitch the Who's "Magic Bus,'' plays in the background.

Dell Vice Chairmen Kevin Rollins and Mort Topfer also appear in the spot, which breaks on ABC's college football coverage before hitting the network's "NFL Monday Night Football'' on Sept. 13. The media plan is a mix of cable and network business and sports programming, as well as Internet advertising.

"Companion,'' a coming spot, will be even more focused on the Internet and e-business.

As BBDO toils on the next generation of Dell's global brand creative, tentatively set for February, the PC marketer--differentiated for its highly efficient direct sales model--is trying hard to strike the right tone as it revs its consumer business with a new, slimmed down PC code-named Webster.

Dell unveiled the small desktop at its DirectConnect Conference last week and is planning a marketing push via Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, in time for Christmas.

In unveiling plans for a stylized PC, Dell follows the lead of other computer marketers--notably Apple Computer with its iMac and iBook, Gateway's E-1400 and Packard Bell NEC's Z1.

"PCs have gotten very commodity-like and people are looking for a means to distinguish their brands,'' said Roger Kay, research manager for researcher International Data Corp.

Ammirati, Dell's consumer and small-business agency, is preparing to unleash a new product-oriented campaign by the end of next month that will inject more humanity into the company's selling proposition.

"It will leverage our position on the Internet and show how it's easier for customers to do business with us,'' said Scott Helbing, VP-corporate brand strategy.

Dell hopes that Webster and other customer-focused initiatives, such as its new "E-support--Direct from Dell" automated tech support plan, will engrain a brand persona with consumers.


While competitors struggle to play in the direct-sales space Dell pioneered, its own challenge now is to "own the benefits of 'direct' in terms of the customer experience,'' Mr. Helbing said.

Dell certainly is poised to pounce on the consumer market. For the second-quarter 1999, it grabbed the No. 1 position in desktop and portable PC unit shipments in the U.S. with 16.6% of the overall market, according to IDC, displacing Compaq Computer Corp. as the market share leader.

Observers project Dell's torrid growth rate is likely to keep it at No. 1 for the third quarter, and it could use its prime pole position in product advertising, a prospect that marketing officials are mulling.

Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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